There are three things in life that I don't like discussing most of the time: politics, religion, and ebook prices. All three are very hot topics that people get irate (and sometimes downright nasty) about. On occasion, however, something will bug me so much that I feel the need to speak out, such as when people blame the president (any president) for the state of this country (while forgetting that we are a democracy, not a dictatorship) or when people claim the First Amendment gives them the right to be a jerk (no, it doesn't). So when I read an article by Dean Wesley Smith today about raising indie ebook prices, I felt the need to chime in.
I will preface by saying that DWS does say (repeatedly) that the pricing system he laid out is just his opinion and every writer/publisher must do what is right for them. That is absolutely true. What works for one may not work for another. There are several reasons I do not agree with the extent to which he raised prices, however.
Here is his suggested list. Please note that this entire discussion is about fiction and does not take into account any research that would typically be done for non-fiction.
As you can see, it is quite extensive. Ginormous, really. And overcomplicated. Now for my issues.
Let's start with the lowest bracket. Under 3000 words, he suggests charging $1.49. 3000 words is approximately 10 pages. A dollar and a half for 10 pages? That's excessive. I won't publish anything under 3000 words unless it's free. 3000 words is about 3 hours worth of work, max. It's really easy to embellish a story and bump it up to 6000.
DWS has three brackets between 6k and 15k. I think that's overcomplicated, not to mention overpriced. I like to keep everything in that range at $.99. It just doesn't make much sense (with Amazon, anyway) to go to $1.99 with the 35% royalty rate. I consider anything that short to be a sample of my work, really, and why would anyone want to pay $2 for a sample? I can see going $1.99 for things 10k-15k, though. 15k-30k should fall about $2.99. That's approximately 50-100 pages worth of reading and took a serious amount of effort to write, edit, and format. At the 70% royalty rate, an author will easily make $2 per sale. 30k-50k should be $3.99 and over 50k should be $4.99. I would argue that above 100k you could go even higher, but I wouldn't suggest anything over $7.99.
DWS's numbers put indie publishers on the same level price-wise as traditional publishers, which I think is just shooting ourselves in the foot (feet?). We have a distinct advantage over traditional publishers: We make more money. Royalty rates received by traditionally published authors are really low, around 15% if the publisher is generous. So on that $2.99 book, they'd make all of 44 cents. We can afford to price lower, which is only one of the reasons to keep our prices under $5.
The lower prices will entice more readers. No, I don't mean entice them to buy our books alone. I mean it will encourage people to read more. The lower prices of ebooks and the increased availability of free reading apps and cheap ereaders will (in my oh-so-humble opinion) encourage people to read more. Youth these days are very tech-minded and I know quite a few who would not otherwise read pick out a book on their new iPhone app and start devouring it. Raising prices up to where the books match the price of a good lunch will only discourage new readers.
In line with keeping books affordable, the lower priced books will entice those who are on a tight budget to buy while the books that come in above the $5 mark will likely fall in the borrow (or steal) category. I've lived on a tight budget the majority of my life and when it comes to books, I will definitely borrow the more expensive ones, or simply put them on a "wish list", in which case they usually get forgotten. However, if I see a book that looks really interesting and falls under $5, I'll definitely sample it and most likely buy it. Honestly, I've bought way too many books that I shouldn't have, but I've enjoyed most of them and I'm happy to support my fellow indies.
So my pricing is as follows (I use discretion with each book based on other factors, of course):
Under 3000: Free
Over 50000: $4.99
Those are just a few reasons why I think indie prices shouldn't try to compete with those of traditionally published books. We have an opportunity to share our books with those who may not necessarily have access to them otherwise and encourage new people to read. Why bleed our readers dry when we benefit so much from their support?
What did you think of DWS's article on pricing in 2012? As a reader, how do ebook prices affect your buying choices? As a writer, do you follow a specific pricing model?